A few months after arriving in Australia to start my Masters, I was met with my first tough challenge. I’d already got a student job and the burden of studies on my lousy shoulders was proving a little too much to handle. However, I was still doing reasonably well; flicking through piles of notes, skimming two or three books at a time and preparing rather slowly for my assignments so I would not go mad when the deadline came around.
Now, before I go any further I must tell you that I am a sports enthusiast and like to play both indoor and outdoor games. If someone told me that Arsenal were losers I would show them my latest edition of FIFA 2013 and beat any opponent of their choice (with difficulty level set to ‘easy’ of course). I also love to watch movies, so I do not miss any chance of going to the cinema – especially when I’m able to get a student discount.
If someone even hinted at any of these interests, I would easily get distracted and take my focus away from studies. And that’s exactly what happened! Result? I had fun, exercise and got opportunities to socialize. All sounds well? No. In the midst of all these adventures, I ended up falling behind my study timetable and could not prepare well for my next class.
Since I was already following a set study plan, I was able to deal with that mishap and return to my schedule. However, if you are among those who easily get distracted and are unable to make your way back to studies, give your priorities a second thought.
Here are some simple study tipsto help you stay focused:
1. Set study goals
First things first; start with the basics and set your study goals. Ask yourself why you are here, at university, possibly (like me) having travelled across the world for this opportunity. Having fun is certainly one answer, but not the primary one. Knowing your objectives completes half the job.
2. Make a study timetable
Once you know what you want, the next step is to prepare a weekly study timetable. Set a routine for everything. Your timetable could include the time you should go to bed, the time you should have your meals, and – most importantly – the time you should spend on studies. There is no hard and fast rule and you should of course allow some flexibility depending on how things go. But establishing a routine is essential, and do try to stick to your study timetable as best as you can.
3. Learn to say no
Now, I am not asking you to give up all your social activities, but you have to take some bold steps. If you dine out daily, it is better to limit this to one day per week, which will help you save some money as well. If you go to the cinema every week, try to cut down to once a fortnight. If someone is asking you to accompany them to hang out at the mall when you know you should be studying, tell them you’re busy – and let them know when would be a better time. In short: learn to say no when you know you really should.
4. Stay focused on your priorities
Self-help is the key here. No one else is going to stop you from doing what you want, but you’re the one who will face the consequences if you fail to meet your targets. Remember you are at university for a reason, and if that reason is lost nothing else will fit well in the equation.
What I do to stay focused is keep a diary with me. I have written all my study goals and priorities in it and when I have spare time (while waiting for the train or travelling and before going to bed) I take a thorough look at them. You could do the same, or even paste some posters on your room’s wall.
Follow these study tips and stay focused on your goals, and you should find you’re feeling more confident about your studies – as well as still being able to enjoy all the other aspects of student life.
Want more content like this?Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.College can be overwhelming when you’re trying to maintain your grades, work a part-time job and/or balance relationships. Most of us get distracted with push notifications, text messages and phone calls. According to research conducted by Dr. Larry Rosen, professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills, “the typical student” is “distracted for at least five out of every 15 minutes they set aside to study,” most often as a result of texting and social media use.
With so much going on, it can be very difficult to stay focused, but it’s not impossible.
Here are seven tips to help enhance your productivity:
Get organized with a to-do list
Silence alerts and keep open Internet tabs to a minimum
Break big projects into small pieces
Use music and headphones to cut down noise
Find the best environment for efficient studying
Clean up and organize your work space
Reward yourself for accomplishments
Make a Schedule or To-Do List
Juggling multiple projects and deadlines at school can be stressful. When you’re working on one assignment, it’s easy to forget about another. You can help organize your deadlines and manage your time more efficiently with a proper schedule. Figure out when you’re most productive and set time aside for homework and activities. Keeping a planner or digital calendar will help you keep track of your classes and assignments. Paper planners are perfect for those who like writing to-do lists and scheduling appointments by hand. One study suggests that the simple act of writing things out helps boost your concentration and memory.
Turn Off Alerts
Constant notifications and text messages are every college student’s enemy. Put your phone on silent or in “Do Not Disturb” mode, and close unnecessary tabs on your computer. If you need the Internet, keep one tab open. You can fight online distractions by blocking or hiding time-wasting websites and apps.
Break Down Your Work into Smaller Tasks
Defeat procrastination by breaking a large project into small pieces. It’s easier to motivate yourself to do something in smaller tasks rather than jumping into a huge one. If you’re having a difficult time studying or getting work done, break up your time effectively. Try giving yourself a 10-minute break for every 45-50 minutes of work you do. Studies show that taking breaks can help you retain information and increase productivity.
If you’re working in a noisy environment, use noise-canceling headphones. Listening to music through earbuds can also tune out distracting noises like people talking too loudly or construction work. Often, though, music with lyrics can be too distracting. Researchers suggest listening to classical or instrumental music to improve concentration.
Find the Right Place to Do Work
Some students work best with a little background noise, while others need complete quiet. Get to know your work style and the type of atmosphere you prefer. Are you the kind of person who works better in silence at the library? Or do you prefer the campus coffee shop with ambient noise? Try a few different spaces and see how each study session works out.
Clear Your Desk
Is your desk covered with stacks of papers? Is your computer monitor framed with layers of sticky notes? If so, it’s time to get organized. A messy workspace can keep you from getting your work done. Go through your desk and keep only the essentials. A clean workspace can help reduce anxiety and make room for motivation.
A little motivation can go a long way. Setting up a reward system is a good way to encourage yourself to do something. For example, if you finish an essay without any distractions, give yourself a reward like watching a video or taking a nap.
The start of the academic year always seems to fly by so quickly. Freshers week seems like it was just yesterday and then suddenly, before you know it, essay deadlines and exams are on the horizon. But don’t panic, there are many tips to avoid the stress and nerves that deadlines can create. And here’s our list of fail-safe tips to keep you organized and focused in the build up to your January exams and any upcoming coursework deadlines.
1. Make a plan
By now you’ll have a good idea of when essays are due and even if you don’t know exact dates of individual exams, you should know the week(s) that exams are scheduled for. So, get a head start and map out your work schedule now. Whether it’s reading, researching, writing or revising, be sure to give yourself a target to achieve at the end of each week so you know you’re on track to have everything ready in time for the deadlines. Investing in a wall calendar or diary is a good idea as you can mark down important dates. It will help you to clearly see how much time you have left and when you are going to work on what.
2. Create a relaxed study environment
If you’re planning on studying from home, be sure to make sure your room is tidy and your desk is clear from clutter. As they say, a clean space makes way for a clear mind – which is just what you need when you’re working. You’ll also find it easier to focus if your study space is somewhere you actually enjoy being. Having a potted plant and decent lighting are small steps to creating your ultimate study haven. And calming music and scented reed diffusers can help to relax your senses, putting you in a good frame of mind to get some work done.
3. Take regular breaks
Studies repeatedly show that productivity increases when students take regular breaks. By breaking down your revision or essay writing into manageable chunks, you’re more likely to remain focused and keep your brain engaged on the subject at hand. For every 45 minutes of solid work you do, take a 15-minute break away from your desk. Whether it’s popping outside for some fresh air, having a quick tidy or doing some stretches, we guarantee your brain will thank you later!
4. Don’t get distracted by social media
These days it’s almost too easy to be distracted by social media. When your phone buzzes in your pocket it’s impossible to ignore the alluring call of a Snapchat or Instagram notification. And before you know it you’ve spent the afternoon scrolling through cute animal pictures and funny videos, and no work has been done. But fear not, software developers have found a way to help students during times when they need to focus. You can download browser extensions such as ‘Stay Focused’ which blocks your most distracting websites for a set amount of time. Smartphone users can install apps such as ‘Ofttimes’ which allow you to filter modes such as Work or Friends so you only have access to the things you need and won’t be distracted by any unnecessary gaming or social media apps.
5. Drink plenty of water and eat well
During exam periods, it’s often the case that students become so focused on their work, they forget to focus on their own well-being. The easiest way to help yourself perform to your best ability is to stay hydrated and keep away from junk food. Set a reminder on your phone to drink a large glass of water every couple of hours and snack on healthy fruit and nuts during your studies. A lack of water or eating foods with high levels of fat will make you feel irritable and lethargic, which is the last thing you’ll want when you’re trying to be productive!
6. Reward yourself
Rewarding yourself for studying is key to staying motivated. These can be small rewards such as a square of chocolate for each paragraph you write or watching an episode of your favorite Netflix series when you’ve mastered revising a certain topic. When you feel you’ve really been working hard or when assignments have been handed in and exams finished, reward yourself with bigger things such as a night out with friends or buying those pair of boots you’ve had your eye on for months. Remember, just because it’s exam season, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy yourself.
7. Don’t do all-nighters, you will regret it!
You may think that by staying up all night working, you’re keeping on track with your studies. But doing all-nighters and functioning with a lack of sleep can end up having a serious impact on your health and in turn impede your work. A good night’s sleep is important to help stay focused and learn efficiently. Sleep helps consolidate memory which is essential when studying and converting short term memory to long term. So, swap the extra cups of coffee or cans of Red Bull for your bed and be sure to get the necessary number of hours sleep you need every night.
And don’t forget if you have got work to do, you don’t have to completely lock yourself away from the world and stay in your room. At most of our student accommodation we have dedicated quiet study areas or rooms for you to get your head down and focus on your work. Our comfy common areas also provide the perfect place to get together with others if you’re working on a group project or assignment. To find out more about our student accommodation and living with us here at KpK12.com, contact us or take a look at our locations.
Arguably, the biggest challenge associated with taking an online class is staying disciplined. When you go to a conventional class in a classroom , you’re already “stuck” there for the period, so you might as well pay attention, take notes and get something out of it. For an online class, which can be taken at your own convenience, there may be a temptation to get distracted from the material being presented to you.
So, how can you stay focused while taking and studying for an online class? Here are some pointers:
Study Tips for Online Classes
Establish a dedicated study area
Don’t double your kitchen or dining room table as a classroom. Instead, establish a quiet workspace where you won’t be distracted by any commotion in your household. An established study environment is a big step in getting and staying focused for an online class.
Simply establishing a dedicated study space is a big step in avoiding distractions. Take the extra step to make sure TVs and other background noises are turned off, and that your classwork is the only item pulled up on your web browser. That’s right, no social media or Netflix – just your online classwork. Procrastination is much easier when you have distractions, so removing background noise and distracting websites can go a long way.
Online classes can be a real chore, so break up your study session to ensure that you’re not burning yourself out. For instance, you might study for 30 minutes, then take a five minute break. Research shows that taking a 5 minute walk break during long study sessions has many.
Try The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and is a great study method. This technique uses a timer to break your study sessions into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. There are dozens of mobile apps that can make implementing this technique easy and the benefits are wide-ranging.
Form a study group
Take your online class to the library or coffee shop by forming a study group. Not only can a study group be a great way to interact with your peers, but it can also ensure that you’re all keeping each other in check as far as work goes. A study group can hold each other accountable and a change of scenery, like at your favorite coffee shop, can help you keep going.
Take hand written notes
Staring at a computer screen can take a toll on your eyes. Give yourself a break and keep a notebook and pen handy to jot notes down as your studying unfolds. Another benefit of writing by hand is that research shows it helps to increase memory retention and understanding.
Set Dedicated Study Time
The flexible nature of online classes is what makes them so attractive to many students, especially those with full-time jobs or children. Unfortunately, the lack of a set class schedule can make procrastination much easier for those lacking self-control. Setting dedicated study times can really help students maintain the structure they are likely used to having with a traditional class schedule. Analyze your schedule and block of study time during the same slots every week when possible. Over time your body will get used to studying at the same time, making it easier for you to avoid procrastination.
Don’t Forget To Sleep
Did you know that the amount of sleep college students get is one of the strongest predictors of academic success? That’s right, sleeping is often much more beneficial than cramming for a test. Sleep plays a vital role in reducing memory loss, so long study sessions that prevent adequate sleep almost always result in lower performance. Online classes, due to their flexibility, can easily cause students to sleep less. Make sure you are cognizant of the amount of sleep you are getting and try to schedule naps that can help make up the difference of any sleep you may not be getting during the night. Adults are recommended to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day.
Online classes can be a challenge, which is why it’s important to take the necessary measures to ensure you stay disciplined and motivated while taking them.
In the early stages of my teaching career, I was sometimes told by observers that I should work at my pace. The feedback was almost always about increasing the pace of my lesson but this was rarely explained any further. I knew that being ‘pacey’ was good; I had little idea as to how this translated into good practice.
I’ve come to realize that a ‘pacey’ lesson is an efficient lesson: the time spent in class will be maximally productive with little to no time wasted at all.
What follows is a list of advice and approaches that I’ve picked up over the years:
Plan your lessons by focusing on what students will be thinking hard about at all times
Typically, some students arrive at class a bit earlier than others and the time gap between the first and last student to arrive can sometimes be a few minutes. Because of this, I start most lessons with an open-ended task up on the board so that students can begin working as soon as they enter. The tasks are deliberately open ended-I often give them a 5-minute limit- so that low and high attainers can attempt them successfully, the differentiation here being by the depth and complexity of the outcome.
Here are a few examples:
a) How is Romeo presented in Act 1?
b) How do you know that Jonas lives in a dystopian society?
c) What kind of man is Utterson?
3. Know where the lesson fits into a sequence of learning
A lesson is almost always part of a longer instructional sequence. Sometimes a lesson will focus on building knowledge as you explain, discuss, and question new concepts or ideas; sometimes it will involve modeling and practicing a specific type of writing, sentence construction, or analytical component. Effective instructional sequences often span multiple lessons and the tasks and approaches within them should undergo a number of changes as student competence develops. One way of describing this transformation is the I-We-You continuum as the responsibility for learning gradually shifts from teacher to student. So what does all this have to do with the pace? If you know where a lesson fits within a wider sequence, it is often easier to judge exactly what needs to be achieved within the lesson in question. This then allows you to make better-informed decisions as to the variety of examples that you need to present, how much practice may be necessary at a particular stage of a sequence, and when it may be appropriate to move from guided to freer practice.
4. Equipment and Resources
Ensure that students have everything that they need for the lesson. Well-planned booklets can be really helpful here as they should contain everything that a student will need for the entire unit. Printing off a booklet at the start of a unit for each student means that I rarely have to rush around and print additional resources. If you do need to hand out resources during a lesson, do this when students are working individually in silence, not when they have finished a task. This means there is no wait time and you can check what they are working on as you move around the class.
At my school, the expectation is that all students are responsible for bringing the equipment they need for class and if they don’t, they receive a consequence. Having also worked in schools where teachers hand out pens freely with no consequence for ill-prepared students, my current situation is a thousand times better-less time is wasted and students rarely appear in class without a pen anymore.
5. Content takes priority
Students should be able to instantly grasp what they have to do in a learning activity, allowing them to focus all of their concentration on the content that is being learned. If we are to teach challenging and unashamedly academic content, then we should not be adding to the cognitive load by creating complicated methods of delivering that content: tasks should be procedurally simple; if they are not, then students will need to simultaneously work out how to approach the task as well as getting their heads around the content within it. Time spent working out the rules of a convoluted activity is time not spent thinking about what they are meant to be learning
6. Repetition isn’t boring
If you want to master anything-including all aspects of teaching-you will probably need to engage in repetitive, deliberate practice. The more familiar you are with a specific routine or approach, the faster and more fluently you can implement it. Pacey lessons often involve procedures and tasks that have been done many times by the teacher and the students, both being so familiar with the instructions that the teacher is able to devote maximal concentration to behavior management, misconceptions, and questions, while the student can devote maximal attention to what it is they are learning.
Here are just some of the things that can be approached in the same way almost all of the time, instead of varying the content, level of support, or extent and scope of the practice:
Once you have worked out the most efficient and procedurally simple way of teaching a specific piece of content, then repeat this method over and over again until it becomes honed, speedy and automatic. Not only will this make lessons pacier, but it will allow you to concentrate on dealing with misconceptions and behavior so you can focus on the content and students, not whether you have explained the task properly
7. Set precise expectations for everything.
Set precise time limits for tasks-some teachers to use timers for this but I usually make it up, telling them ‘you’ve got three minutes left. The advantage of making it up is that you can speed up or slow down the time they have left based upon what you see the students are doing: if they are struggling, you can stretch the minutes; if they are whipping through it, you can speed up the time.
It is also worth ensuring students know exactly what you expect in terms of output: One page? A paragraph? Six lines? The inclusion of authorial intent?
With regards to behavior, having relentlessly high expectations of all kids at all times will ensure that distractions are kept to the minimum. Explain what you expect, why you expect it, and then give consequences to those who deliberately choose to ignore your requests. Assuming what you have asked is reasonable and following your behavior policy and it is clear that the student has still chosen to misbehave, you shouldn’t need to engage in any argument, debate, or negotiation.
8. Scripting explanations and preplanning questions
Writing out exactly what you will say when explaining something (particularly when you are new to teaching it) is a really good way of ensuring you are precise and concise; it will also help to prevent the inclusion of unnecessary synonyms and hopefully stop you from going off on an unnecessary tangent, both of which could confuse students.
If you teach from booklets, a good way to plan your lesson is by completing the tasks yourself so you know exactly what the students need to understand from the booklet. This will then help direct your annotations and questions. Here’s a step by step approach:
Complete the task yourself so you understand what is required.
Go through your own copy of the booklet, annotating the parts that you will elaborate on and ask students about: these will be focussed on what is needed to complete the questions. Doing this in advance gives you time to think of the aptest, succinct and useful annotation to add: this can be hard if you try to do it live in class for the first time. Also, add in questions that you want to ask.
When you teach the lesson, have your annotated booklet next to the blank one you will be using live under the visualizer in class. The prepared one can then act as an aide-memoire for the lesson.
The key thing here is knowing your stuff in as greater depth as possible-the better you know the content and what you will focus on, the less likely you will be thrown off track by the myriad unexpected events that may happen during class
9. Don’t play ‘Guess what’s in my head’.
Asking questions is an important part of teaching but if questions are to be useful, we need to think about why we are asking them. Questions can be asked to check to understand, to push students to develop their answers, to consider alternative viewpoints, or to help them make links between ideas. Kris Boulton argues that we should never ask a question to which they have not already been told the answer and I broadly agree: most of the time it is far more efficient to teach stuff than ask them questions about it. Beginning with eliciting questions like ‘Who knows what The Great Chain of Being is?’ or ‘What do you think ‘hubris’ means?’ before teaching them anything is probably not that useful.
The worst example of this is ‘guess what’s in my head’ where a teacher asks a question with a specific answer in mind, hoping to elicit that specific answer from the class. This guessing game can go on for ages and is almost certainly a waste of time. Reeves and Mortimer used to play this game in the final round of Shooting Stars:
Q: Name a hairy dog.
A: St Bernard?’
Q: Nope it was a Golden Retriever.
This list is certainly not exhaustive and I would be interested in any other tips that people have!With a bit of preparation, organization and a “can do” attitude, you can have the best school year ever! Here are some tips to help you prepare for the busy days ahead.
1. Organize your study area: Create the right environment. Clutter can be distracting and it can also add to feelings of being overwhelmed. Temperature (keeping it around 70-75) and lighting (using natural light) can also affect your productivity and sense of well-being.
2. Manage your time efficiently and effectively: Keep a time journal for the week. This can help you figure out the best time for schoolwork and “time bandits” like social media that can suck away the hours.
3. Schedule time each day for schoolwork: Set aside time each day to study. Many people find that it works better for them to set aside time in blocks than by task; for instance, instead of saying, “I am going to read this chapter,” say “I am going to study for two hours.”
4. Eliminate distractions: Hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door or chair. Figure out what works for you—does music help you concentrate or make it harder?
5. Plan ahead: Prepare in advance to use your time wisely. Set up a planner* or calendar to help you stay on top of things. Include semester due dates and the number of assignments that you should finish per day/week. You can buy a planner and/or use templates in Microsoft Word or Excel. Here is how:
Open Word or Excel on your computer.
Click File > “New from Template.”
Type “Calendar” in the search field.
You’ll see a variety of options; click any year or one-month calendar. Then click “Create.”
6. Include your home and work tasks: When you put together a planner, don’t just include your school tasks. Including things you need to get done at home and at work can help you see the bigger picture. Color-coding by school, work, and home can also help.
7. Keep track of due dates: Most phones these days have alerts systems. Enter your assignments and other due dates and set your phone to remind you about them. Email providers like Google or Outlook also have calendar alert options.
8. Make school work a priority: Prioritize all of your tasks and be flexible with your “normal” routines. Postpone tasks or routines that can be delayed until you complete your High School Diploma!
9. Take mini breaks: Every hour, take a 10-minute break to rest your body (which holds tension/stress) and mind (our brains need a break).
10. Call your coach: Getting drained? Need a little motivation? Remember, we are here for you. Call your coach and talk through any issues you are having. You can do it!
These tips will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and help you stay on pace!
We live in a knowledge economy where the production of knowledge in different domains happens at an exponential pace.
The half-life of information, which is the time for half of it to become irrelevant or untrue in different disciplines, has been shrinking over the years.
The revision of knowledge and sharpening of specific skills, the process by which we shed irrelevant facts, revise wrong facts, and gain additional facts, is one of the 21st century’s unavoidable imperatives.
We must follow up learning with unlearning and relearning. We can no longer follow yesterday’s laid back way of learning. The price of inaction is the loss of competitiveness, disruptions in careers, and personal lives.
A knowledge-deficit is not only a handicap in a digital economy but also portends the loss of status and erosion of well-being.
Learn from diverse sources
Traditionally, we used to learn from teachers, mentors, and books. There is no guarantee that teachers and books will provide us with innovative knowledge. We need to learn from multiple sources like podcasts, online courses, masterclasses, learning communities, newsletters, newspapers, and articles.
Multiple sources of learning provide us with a holistic perspective on what we have learned. No single source can provide comprehensive knowledge about any subject. The more diverse the source of knowledge, the more insights we can expect to learn.
Auto-didacticism or self-learning
Our capacity to tap into multiple sources of knowledge depends on our ability to learn by ourselves. We are not only students but also are our own teachers. Never in history has access to knowledge been so easy and democratic as now.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, taught himself rocket science with the help of textbooks and by talking to experts.
Adopt the Feynman Learning Technique
The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks
— Mortimer Adler
Gaining knowledge does not end with learning. We must gain the ability to internalize it and convey what one has learned in a way that even a child can understand. We must test our knowledge by writing it down in simple language.
According to the Farnam Street blog, there are four steps to the Feynman Learning Technique:
Choose a concept you want to learn about
Pretend you are teaching it to a student in grade 6
Identify gaps in your explanation; Go back to the source material, to better understand it.
Review and simplify (optional)
Teaching others is the best way to internalize and solidify our grasp of knowledge.
We can volunteer to teach at a local school/college. Or we can start a YouTube channel to teach others.
Nurture a child-like sense of curiosity
Curiosity is lying in wait for every secret (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
We must never consider learning as a painful chore. We must be curious to know more and more about a field of knowledge. We must integrate learning into our daily routines. Continuous learning will check our innate tendency to consider what we think we know as what we know. Complacency is the biggest enemy of learning.
We have a tendency to cling on to the knowledge that appeals to our sense of right and wrong or what we validate with our cognitive biases. Falsifiability is one of science’s pillars. We must be open-minded and revise our knowledge in the face of additional facts that emerge after rigorous scientific investigations and expert consensus.
Learning does not end with getting a college degree or a Ph.D. It is a lifelong process. We must be curious, open-minded, tap into multiple sources, learn on our own, and solidify our knowledge by teaching it to others.
Unless we come out of our comfort zones and explore new frontiers of knowledge, we will enter a state of deep slumber and end up like the fictional character Rip van Winkle who slept for 20 years and woke up to find a new world he could not make sense of.
Students spend more than 1,000 hours with their teacher in a typical school year. That’s enough time to build a relationship that could ignite a student’s lifetime love of learning—and it’s enough time for the dynamic to go totally off the rails.
Education watchers have long known that the relationship with a teacher can be critically important to how well students learn. But emerging research is giving a clearer picture than ever of how teachers can build and leverage strong relationships with their students.
“People sometimes mistake a kind of casual familiarity and friendliness for the promotion of really deep relationships that are about a child’s potential, their interests, their strengths, and weaknesses,” said Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Southern California who studies the effects of emotions and mindsets on learning.
“A lot of teachers … have really strong abilities to engage socially with the students, but then it’s not enough,” she said. “You have to go much deeper than that and actually start to engage with students around their curiosity, their interests, their habits of mind through understanding and approaching material to really be an effective teacher.”
In a forthcoming longitudinal study with Bank Street College of Education, Immordino-Yang is tracking how the highly effective teachers of low-income students set classroom norms and feelings of trust and safety for students—but also leverage that foundation to promote students’ deeper thinking and engagement.
Why are teacher-student relationships important?
“The relational part of teaching may very well be its most underrated aspect. … When teachers are good at building relationships with students, the skill is seen more as cover for a lack of content knowledge or wherewithal to instruct with rigor,” James Ford, the 2015 North Carolina State Teacher of the Year and the program director for the Public School Forum of North Carolina, told Education Week. To the contrary, he added, “Our first job as teachers is to make sure that we learn our students, that we connect with them on a real level, showing respect for their culture and affirming their worthiness to receive the best education possible.”
A Review of Educational Research analysis of 46 studies found that strong teacher-student relationships were associated in both the short- and long-term with improvements on practically every measure schools care about: higher student academic engagement, attendance, grades, fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions, and lower school dropout rates. Those effects were strong even after controlling for differences in students’ individual, family, and school backgrounds.
Teachers benefit, too. A study in the European Journal of Psychology of Education found that a teacher’s relationship with students was the best predictor of how much the teacher experienced joy versus anxiety in class.
How does a teacher’s approach affect that relationship?
In a 2018 study, Arizona State University researcher Victoria Theisen-Homer found different teacher-training programs prioritized different kinds of relationships with students:
An instrumental focus involved a limited, one-way relationship in which teachers cull bits of information about students specifically to motivate them to behave well and focus on teacher-directed tasks. The relationships “were structured as a controlled means to a particular end: student compliance,” she found. “Students learned that their value was tied to the degree to which they worked hard and behaved in line with what mostly white authority figures demanded.”
A reciprocal focus required teachers to gather complex information and develop a holistic understanding of their students, inviting the students to grapple with content and problems together. “These students not only learned to think for themselves, but also had adults who affirmed and responded to their thoughts and experiences. Such interactions prepared them to engage with authority figures, and to someday hold positions of authority themselves,” Theisen-Homer said.
The study also found in an analysis of two of these programs that teachers trained in the instrumental focus were more likely to go on to teach in low-income, high-minority schools, while those trained in reciprocal relationships ended up in schools with more high-income and white students. It was not clear why teachers ended up sorting in this way, but it raised concerns about differences in the kinds of relationships high- and low-income students might experience with teachers.
“Sometimes teachers don’t understand the importance that their relationship with each student has on that student’s identity and sense of belonging,” said Vicki Nishioka, a senior researcher with Education Northwest who studies teacher-student relationships. “What gets in the way of that is a more authoritarian kind of discipline and interaction approach with students, which really doesn’t work.”
For example, a 2016 study randomly assigned teachers to increase their positive interactions with students. Students of teachers who boosted their ratio to five positive comments and interactions for every negative one had significantly less disruptive behavior and more time on task academically than the students of a control group of teachers.
How can teachers improve their relationships with students?
In a word: Empathy. Across several recent studies, researchers have found that teachers who cultivate empathy for and with their students are able to manage students’ behavior and academic engagement better.
Nishioka finds that trying to suppress biases or stereotypes about students can sometimes make them worse, but practicing perspective-taking—actively imagining how a student might perceive or be affected by a situation—can reduce bias and deepen teacher-student relationships. She recommended teachers:
Talk to students to understand differences in their perceptions and expectations in class.
Research cultural differences between teachers and students to head off cultural misunderstandings, particularly around norms, styles, and language.
Teach and model perspective-taking for students in class.
How can teachers maintain healthy boundaries with students?
Experts caution that for teachers and students, “relationship” does not equal “friend,” particularly on social media. Many districts have rules against teachers following or friending current students on Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms, in part because it might open teachers to liability if they see inappropriate behavior from students online.
Teachers also should be upfront with students who confide in them that they are required by law to report evidence of abuse and can’t keep secrets that could put students in danger.
Teacher and education author Starr Sackstein, whose blog is hosted on the edweek.org website, also recommends that while teachers can and should share personal stories if they are “purposeful and appropriate” to the discussion, they should use these to model for students what level of detail is appropriate for sharing in social conversations.
How can relationships with students support teacher quality?
While student feedback is often incorporated into teacher evaluations in higher education, it is rarely a direct part of K-12 teacher evaluations. But that doesn’t mean districts can’t use student feedback to improve teaching practice, and in particular, such feedback can be used to help teachers build deeper relationships with students.
For example, the High Tech High Media Arts charter school in San Diego trains students using a six-week course to act as observers. The students met regularly with the teacher to give feedback about their communication skills and engagement in the classroom, and to brainstorm better ways to reach out to students. Teachers and administrators found that going through the training gave students better understanding of the teachers’ roles. School staff members said that teachers also “developed deeper relationships with students, interacted with students in a more positive way during class, communicated information about projects and assignmentsAbstract
The purpose of this study is to determine how K-12 schools are addressing the need to accommodate online learners in Pennsylvania. It is built upon a review of literature focusing on educational legislation, the personalization of online learning, and online learning solutions. The study posed 21 questions utilizing a mixed-methods approach to district decision-makers from across the state. There were 28 respondents. The data indicate that the driving force for developing online learning alternatives is student interest and while many district decision-makers are outsourcing the development of online education, most feel neutral about the level of satisfaction with said efforts.
Public education in the United States is managed at the state level. Each state approaches online learning differently. In Pennsylvania, approaches to online learning can vary by the school district and the state has roughly 500 school districts, 67 counties, and 29 intermediate units (C. Harrington, personal communication, January 12, 2012). According to the 2011 report, Cost and Funding Models of A State-led Virtual Learning Program, Pennsylvania’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee estimates, at least 158 of Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts have arrangements with outside organizations to provide online learning support. Unlike some other states with a state virtual school or a state-led online initiative, Pennsylvania has neither (States with State,” 2011). Currently, if a student elects to take online courses the district is obligated to pay to outsource the education of the student. During the 2010-11 academic year, “the amount varied based on the home district, but averaged around $12,808” per student (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin & Rapp, 2011, p. 142). While the state would partially reimburse the district, as of 2010-2011, this dollar amount dropped by 25% and was completely eliminated in the 2011-2012 budget (Watson et al., 2011). This change in reimbursement has had financial implications and has left many districts searching for alternatives. However, the lack of data indicating how school districts are accommodating online learners within the state is problematic for decision-makers as they incur the expense of outsourcing online education while simultaneously grappling with developing their own online learning solutions.
The purpose of this study is to determine how K-12 schools are addressing the need to accommodate online learners in Pennsylvania.Research Questions
This study utilizes a mixed-method approach via a survey posing qualitative and quantitative questions. These questions use Likert scales as well as semantic differential and free text questions. While some open space will be provided for free text, most of the questions will elicit data that can be measured numerically. Driving sub-questions will attempt to assess the following: 1.) What needs do Pennsylvania school districts have with respect to online learning? 2.) What solutions have districts implemented to address these needs? 3.) How satisfied are districts with their online learning solutions? Since trends may exist based on school location (i.e. rural, urban or suburban) and the role of the person taking the survey (i.e. teacher or administrator), this information will be requested. If participation in the survey is overwhelmingly positive, this data can also be used to limit the scope of the report. A copy of the survey is available in Appendix A. (Included in the distribution of the survey link were directions and an explanatory letter of introduction from the researcher.)
Definition of Terms
“Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace” (Horn, Staker, Hernandez, Hassel & Ableidinger, 2011, p. 2).
“Learning management systems by nature are more about the ephemera of learning than the actual learning itself; it is the gathering of course calendars, assignments, and all other relevant content in a single place where both students and teachers can access everything” (Horizon Report 2011, p. 30).
“Personal learning environments (PLEs) are often described as systems for enabling self-directed and group-based learning, designed around each user’s goals, with a great capacity for flexibility and customization” (Horizon Report 2011, p. 30).
“Multiple phrases are used by foundations, innovators, and state policy to capture the practice of students progressing upon mastery: standards-based, outcome-based, performance-based, and proficiency-based. The use of “competency-based” has been selected as it has already entered federal policy with its inclusion in Race to the Top (RTTT) and the subsequent state applications” (Sturgis & Patrick, 2010,p. 6).
While many school districts are struggling to figure out how best to approach online learning, Quakertown Community School District (QCSD) successfully created a customized cyber school. The venture was met with such success that QCSD and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22 partnered to create Bridges Virtual Education Services. According to the website for the organization, “The mission of this partnership is to assist school districts with the implementation or refinement of their own virtual education programs” (Bridges Virtual Education Services, 2012). Dr. Christopher Harrington, the former QCSD Cyber Program Director, is currently the Director at Bridges Virtual Education Services. Per his recommendation, the resource section of the website for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) provided current and relevant material focused on this area of research. Close attention was paid to citations, which then led to other relevant materials. For the purpose of this research, three themes, intricately linked to each other and online learning were identified for further exploration: educational legislation, personalization of online learning, and online learning solutions. Similar data was difficult to find which is makes comparison challenging but adds value and importance to the study.
The first theme is that of education legislation. Unlike some states, Pennsylvania does not have a statewide online program; however, it does have charter schools, and “cyber charter schools follow the same policies and mandates as brick-and-mortar charter schools” (Watson, 2005, p. 80). Following an incident in 2001 when a school district refused to pay a cyber charter school, a lawsuit came about that “challenged the legitimacy of the cyber charter schools” (p. 80). As a result, Act 88 was passed. According to the Pennsylvania State Department of Education (PDE) website, as a result of the lawsuit, the PDE reviews applications and decides “whether to grant or deny a charter to the applicants” (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2012). Act 88 also details the process by which applicants can reapply if they are denied admission. State law stipulates:
local school districts provide funding for students enrolled in cyber charter schools based on a per-pupil cost determined by PDE [and that the school] must satisfy requirements for compulsory attendance, but it is up to the cyber charter school to provide a description of how the cyber charter school will define and monitor a student’s school day. (Watson, 2005, p. 80)
The second theme, that of personalization of online learning, is relevant because the education system in the United States is time-based. That is, students, advance through curriculum based on age, not mastery of content. Online education lends itself to a more personalized learning experience – catered to the individual and based upon content mastery. This presents a problem because current legislation is written for today’s time-based education system. Therefore, creating online learning environments that are in compliance with the law is quite difficult. Beyond the challenges presented by legal restrictions, there is a strong argument for the implementation of online learning, because it “enables a greater personalization of the learning process for both students and educators and facilitates opportunities to collaborate with peers and experts, thus empowering a new sense of personal ownership of the learning process” (Learning, 2011, p. 3). Another benefit of personalized online learning is that it “provides continual feedback, assessment, and incremental victory” (Horn, et al., 2011, p. 9). While beneficial to the individual, unfortunately, providing personalized online learning for students can be costly to school districts; however, the cost of outsourcing education is even greater.
The last of the three themes is that of online learning solutions. Online learning began as a way to serve “students in circumstances where there is no alternative for learning – in the advanced courses that many schools struggle to offer in-house; in small, rural, and urban schools that are unable to offer a broad set of courses with highly qualified teachers in certain subject areas; in remedial courses for students who need to recover credits to graduate; and with home-schooled and homebound students” (Horn, et al., 2011, p. 1). In order to be made possible, online learning requires a method of delivery or learning management system (LMS). This idea of creating/finding an online learning solution is key to the aforementioned problem of creating a personalized online learning experience. Since approaches to online learning can vary by the school district in Pennsylvania, many types of online learning solutions can be utilized across the state. As common examples: 1.) districts can purchase courses and instructional services from an outside provider, 2.) districts can purchase courses from an outside provider and have their own teachers teach the courses, or 3.) districts can develop their own courses and use their own teachers to teach the courses.
Constituents & Rationale
Survey participants will include district decision-makers across Pennsylvania. For the purpose of this study and at the recommendation of the director of Bridges Virtual Education Services, a minimum of 3 people (superintendents, assistant superintendents, and curriculum directors) will be invited from each district to complete the survey. These individuals are interested in learning how districts are approaching this problem because outsourcing student education is costly. As previously mentioned, districts like Quakertown Community School District (QCSD) have created a customized cyber school solution. “The program has seen 178 percent growth in student online course enrollments within a three-year period. […] More than a dozen schools approached QCSD administrators during the 2010-11 school year to seek guidance” (QCSD, 2012). The success of QCSD’s program and the interest of other districts in replicating it prompted the creation of Bridges Virtual Education Services. According to the Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice (2011) report, as well as the Director of Bridges, findings of this study, will fill a void in data by providing information at the district level where there currently is very little. Subsequently, there is no information to compare data against and while this could be viewed as a shortcoming, due to the uniqueness of the data; it will be useful to district decision-makers.
Since survey participants are not students, there are no concerns about obtaining permission to survey minors. While participation will be strongly encouraged by district decision-makers, it cannot be made mandatory, which allows participants to opt-out of the survey. General data (i.e., role of the participant and type of district) will be obtained, but anonymity will be preserved in this study, so participants need not fear the negative repercussions of completing the survey. The summative data will be shared with interested district decision-makers and will provide an honest and anonymous view of the action taken by school districts across the state with regard to how they are approaching online learning.
Action Research & Plans for Validity/Reliability
Many action research processes/models share similar concepts, presented in different ways visually. Stringer’s Action Research Helix boasts visual simplicity and the implication of the repetitious nature of research; yet the model conveys forward progress as momentum from the previous loop (or period of research), carries it through to the next (Mills, 2011). Key concepts identified by Stringer include repetition of looking, thinking, and acting as “phases of research repeated over time” (p. 16). Reoccurring research strands in this study: educational legislation, personalization of online learning, and online learning solutions allow for parallels between this study and Stringer’s Helix to be drawn.
As outlined in Action Research: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher, the qualitative design identified as Anderson, Herr & Nihlen aligns most closely to this study (Mills, 2011). Exploring the types of validity characterized by this design affirms that each has an application to the study. Democratic validity requires consideration of multiple perspectives as they hold a variety of positions in a variety of districts across the state. Outcome validity deals with the relevance of the data while process validity mention requires that the data be gathered in a ” “dependable” and “competent” manner,” which this aims to do (p. 109). Catalytic validity requires participants to be moved to take action as a result of the research. Hopefully, this study will spur conversation and improvement to K-12 online education in Pennsylvania. Further, by offering to share the data, the increased participation and circulation of the survey is anticipated. Lastly, dialogic validity requires that critical conversation follow the study. This relates to the earlier mentioned concept of outcome validity and relevance of the data in that little research has previously been done in this area.
Responses to this survey were largely qualitative, providing focused data about online learning in the district. Specifically, the questions were designed to gather information about the academic level, purpose, subjects, and motivation for use of online learning in the district as well as whether or not the district has an online learning solution and the level of satisfaction with that solution. The survey was structured in four sections: 1.) Demographics, 2.) Identifying Needs, 3.) Current Efforts, and 4.) Evaluation. Survey questions assessed the way in which school districts in the state of Pennsylvania are addressing the need for students to be able to attend school virtually through online class environments. Participants had the option of self-identifying if they were interested in receiving the survey results and were also instructed to select multiple answers when applicable and/or appropriate.
To summarize the first section of the survey, focused on the demographic information of the 28 respondents, 24 were school district employees and 2 were intermediate units (IU) employees with 1 individual not identifying. Respondents received primary support from 12 different IUs across the state. There are a total of 29 IUs supporting 500 districts in the state of Pennsylvania as illustrated in Figure 1. Of the 28 respondents, 21 self-identified by name. When asked to estimate a total student enrollment and given the options of less than 2,000, a range of 2,000 to 5,000 or more than 5,000, 25% of respondents indicated that they work in a district with less than 2,000 students, 14.3% indicated that they work in a district with a range of 2,000 to 5,000 students and 60.7% indicated that they work in a district with 5,000 students or more.
Figure 1. Illustration of school districts and intermediate units in Pennsylvania.
Retrieved from: http://www.dot.state.pa.us/Internet/Bureaus/pdPlanRes.nsf/infoBPR_Education_PA_Intermediate_unit
In the second section of the survey where participants were asked to identify online learning needs, 3.6% indicated that they did not have online learning needs while 57.1%, 39.3%, and 7.1% indicated that their district recognized a need to deliver content online at the high, middle and elementary school levels respectively. (Again, because participants could select all applicable answers, a total of over 100% was possible.) Forty-six point four percent of respondents indicated that they need to deliver online content existed at all levels. Given the choice to identify the purpose for which their school district recognized a need to deliver online content, 92.9% of respondents chose credit recovery. Among the other choices were remediation (75%), acceleration (78.6%), original credit acquisition (78.6%), homebound instruction (75%), summer school (78.6%), and alternative education (75%). Respondents were able to choose as many options as were applicable and a summary of this data is provided in Table 1 where the number of respondents corresponding to the percentage is visible in the column farthest to the right. The last question in this section asked respondents to identify what was motivating their need for online content. Of the 28 respondents, 89.3% identified accommodating student interest, 67.9% indicated expanding course offerings, 78.6% identified addressing financial concerns and 39.3% indicated the demand from the community was the motivating factor in considering the need for delivering content online.
Table 1 Purpose for Delivery of Content Online
The third section of the survey sought to assess current district efforts in the area of online learning. When asked whether they currently had an online learning solution for students, 75% indicated they did while 25% indicated that they did not. Given the variety of ways in which an online learning program can be offered, respondents were given three options with which to identify: 1.) My school district purchases courses and instructional services from an outside provider, 2.) My school district purchases courses from an outside provider and uses our own teachers to teach the courses, or 3.) My school district develops its own courses and uses our own teachers to teach the courses. Of the 21 respondents (the 75% who indicated that they did have an online learning solution in place), 71.4% identified the first option, 38.1% identified the second option and 28.6% identified the third option as applicable to their school district. (One respondent indicated that they used a combination of these options in their district.)
The fourth and final section of the survey asked respondents to specify the level of challenges that exist within their school district’s online learning program for each category listed. When the same 19 respondents were asked about their level of satisfaction with the online learning solution in place in their school district on a similar Likert scale, 15.8% indicated that they were very satisfied while 36.8% indicated that they were satisfied, 42.1% indicated that they were neutral and 5.3% indicated that they were dissatisfied. In a related question, 52.6% of respondents indicated that their current online learning solution was effectively meeting the needs of their students while 15.8% indicated it was not and 31.6% were unsure. When asked to elaborate about why they responded as unsure, most respondents supported their response by saying that they were working with only a small group of students/teachers and/or that that they were too early in the process to make a different assessment. When asked whether they were considering changing any aspect of their online learning solution, 78.9% indicated yes while only 21.1% indicated no. The concluding three free-text questions asked the 19 respondents who indicated that they did have an online learning solution in place to identify their likes and dislikes and share any additional comments.
Since this study was deeply rooted in quantitative design, its success was heavily dependent upon participation. The researcher contacted participants through the IUs and did not have direct communication with them. Even though the statement of purpose and request for participation were made to district decision-makers through the IUs, the researcher has no proof of these requests being made. The researcher requested that IUs circulate the survey to 3 people in each district (superintendents, assistant superintendents, and curriculum directors). Because there are 500 districts, there could have theoretically been 1,500 participants. Since respondents came from 12 different IUs (slightly less than half of all IUs), it is feasible that IUs did circulate the survey to roughly 150-200 districts, which would garner anywhere from 150-450 respondents because instructions indicated that the survey should go to 3 respondents per district. With this perspective, a response from 28 individuals is less shocking as 15-45 respondents would be 10% of this smaller population. While it may be tempting to apply the findings in Pennsylvania to other nearby states, given state education regulations, it would be a mistake to generalize said findings due to the state-focused nature of education in the United States.
A total of 21 questions were posed to 28 participants. Themes in responses emerged – generally, participants liked the flexibility and cost-saving aspects of online learning. Conversely, most expressed concern about proper teacher training and the actual teaching of online courses. When asked about their motivation for online learning, the cost came in second to the desire to accommodate student interest.
As a separate point of interest, one question asked participants to specify the level of challenges that exist within their district online learning program in a variety of categories. The level of significance, average rating, and response count for each category are listed in Table 2. Percentages higher than 60% were evident in ESL support while percentages higher than 50% were present in course quality assurance, special education support, teacher supervision, and local funding of online learning. This suggests high levels of consensus among respondents identifying these as areas of significant challenge as they relate to online learning. Many respondents also identified student motivation and special education support as areas of significant challenge – this is evident by the rating average below 2.00 in both of these areas.
The fact that student motivation is a concern in online learning enforces the idea that online learning is not the best method for all students. Similarly, the fact that special education is ranked as having such significant challenges associated with it in online learning suggests that there is likely a better way to serve this population. Conversely, the areas where the average rating is highest (greater than 2.50) are in the categories of school board/administrator/community support and technology policies/procedures. This suggests that most districts are finding that their communities are supportive of online learning solutions and the necessary technology to support it.
Table 2 Identified Challenge by Category
In summary, of those surveyed, 60% of respondents were from districts with 5,000 or more students and 46.4% of respondents indicated that they had online learning needs at all levels. Admittedly, the 28 respondents were from 12 intermediate units, so there were multiple responses from some districts and intermediate units. When asked to identify a purpose for delivering content online, 92.9% cited credit recovery as most important. Notably, all other categories listed (remediation, acceleration, original credit acquisition, homebound instruction, summer school, and alternative education) were ranked as a purpose for delivering online content by at least 75% of respondents. Three-quarters of those surveyed (21 respondents) indicated that they currently had an online learning solution in place but 42.1% of this population reported their level of satisfaction with the online learning solution as neutral and 5.3% were dissatisfied for a total of 47.4% of 21 respondents feeling neutrally or negatively about their current online learning solution. Also of these 21 respondents with online learning solutions, 71.4% indicated that they rely on an outside provider and 78.9% indicated they were considering changing an aspect of their online learning solution.
As a result of these findings, it would seem that at least a recommendation (if not an investment) at the intermediate unit or state level, as opposed to the district level, would benefit all schools – particularly those currently without online learning solutions. Theoretically, this would mean that decisions such as choosing a learning management system and licensing would not need to be made by district decision-makers. Ideally, this system could provide personal learning environments for students and be competency-based. While a decision of this magnitude is may be unlikely in the immediate future, in the meantime, it is recommended that school districts pool together to find a common solution. Since one of the major concerns brought forth by the study is staff development, it is recommended that the districts train and devote in-house personnel to focus on teaching as opposed to relying on an outside company and/or teachers who already have a full-time face-to-face course load. Further, given perceived challenges in blending online learning solutions for special education and ESL students, it is recommended that these populations not be part of the initial target population in an online learning environment.
A Working Definition of Online Learning
The Aurora Institute (formerly the International Association for K-12 Online Learning) describes online learning this way in its publication A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning 2nd Edition:
Online learning is characterized by a structured learning environment, to enhance and expand educational opportunities, providing instruction that is teacher-led, and may be synchronous (communication in which participants interact in the same time space such as videoconferencing) or asynchronous (communication that is separated by time such as email or online discussion forums), and accessed from multiple settings (in school and/or out of school buildings).
Additional ways that online learning is being used in the K-12 space:
expanding the range of courses available to students, especially in small, rural or inner-city schools, beyond what a single school can offer;
providing highly qualified teachers in subjects where qualified teachers are unavailable;
providing flexibility to students facing scheduling conflicts;
affording opportunities for at-risk students, elite athletes and performers, dropouts, migrant youth, pregnant or incarcerated students, and students who are homebound due to illness or injury to continue their studies outside the classroom;
providing credit recovery programs for students that have failed courses and/or dropped out of school, allowing them to get back on track to graduate;
helping students that are currently performing below grade-level to begin catching-up through blended learning;
addressing the needs of the millennial student;
providing on-demand online tutoring;
increasing the teaching of technology skills by embedding technology literacy in academic content; and
providing professional development opportunities for teachers, including mentoring and learning communities.
Differences and Similarities
Although some educators believe that “anyone” can teach online or that it’s easy, it takes a different skill set and practice to be a proficient online instructor. In fact, many profess that teaching online makes them an even better face-to-face teacher.
What are the similarities between face-to-face and online teaching?
You are an expert in your field.
You build relationships with students and create a learning community.
You evaluate student performance through written assignments and assessments.
You create supplemental resources for your students’ needs.
You seek to connect classroom lessons with the real world.
What are the differences between face-to-face and online teaching?
Students will contact you individually.
You develop relationships in a different way.
There are more opportunities for individualization.
Students will communicate with you and work on their courses at all hours.
Students may begin the course at different times of the calendar year and not progress through the course all together at the same time, depending on the online learning program model.
Students may have greater discretion concerning the order in which they complete their lessons so may skip around in online content and need to be redirected to go back and complete tasks, depending on the online learning program model.
You may not physically see your students. Unless you use video conferencing, for example, communication will be primarily via email, the learning management system (LMS) message system, graded feedback, phone, texting, etc.
Michigan students have an onsite mentor to help support them and act as a liaison among students, parents, and you if need be. (See more about mentors later in this guide.)
The content is often already created for you, depending on the online learning program model.
Why Students Choose Online Learning
Students want to learn online for a variety of reasons. You may not know why your students are in your online course, but what brought them there has an impact on their motivation and often on their success. The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning along with Evergreen Education Group published a report based on surveys, focus groups, and interviews with students along with other data. Why Students Choose Blended and Online Schools distinguishes three primary reasons students pursue online and blended learning (using both online and face-to-face learning in the same course): academics, social-emotional health and safety, and interests and life circumstances.
Why Teachers Choose Online Teaching
Today’s teachers have many reasons for entering the online learning environment. Many teachers choose online teaching for one or more of the following reasons:
Life changes (pregnancy, young children, relocation, health concern(s), family concern(s), etc.) prevent them from working outside of their home;
Their home location is in an area with an unreasonable commute to a school;
They have a desire to be challenged with a new modality of teaching;
They aspire to reach a wide demographic of students who are interested in a specialty area of learning that the teacher can provide;
They’ve been encouraged to teach online by a school/district leader to expand their professional growth and experience or to participate in a district online program; and
They are looking for more flexible hours or supplemental income.
Whatever the reason, many teachers openly embrace this new challenge and find great satisfaction and success in this new teaching modality; however, new online teachers quickly learn that there are additional skills and knowledge required for this position. This guide is intended to provide new online teachers—or those exploring the possibility of teaching online—support in making that transition.
The Online Learning Environment
Despite the many positive aspects of online learning, certain hidden, unknown, and invisible forces that you may or may not be aware of can affect your ability to teach and your students’ ability to learn in the online environment. As with any relationship or situation, the online learning environment presents challenges for both students and teachers. The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning (2017) published a report on why students choose blended and online schools.
The Online Student
Students come with various academic levels.
Students come from a variety of backgrounds and have various life experiences.
Students have various levels of technological ability, and their access to technology and the internet varies.
Students are used to working in a very different educational environment and may not have all the skills required for successful online learning.
Students probably have no previous experience with their online instructors.
The Online Teaching and Learning Environment
Because of the asynchronous delivery of courses:
Students may work at a different pace than the instructor.
Students may work at a different pace than other students.
Giving and receiving timely feedback can be a challenge.
It isn’t always easy for an instructor to see:
Evidence of learning,
Evidence of struggle, or
Evidence of understanding.
Students have ultimate control over their time and attention, therefore:
How does the instructor help students stay engaged with their learning?
How does the instructor help students become successful thinkers and learners?
What are the limits of the instructor’s ability to help students stay engaged and be successful thinkers and learners?
Recognizing these potential sources of friction can help a new and/or seasoned online teacher prepare positive solutions or employ methods to minimize or avoid these pitfalls and create a positive learning experience for everyone. This guide addresses these potential challenges while also providing numerous suggestions and best practices to make the online teaching and learning experience exciting and positive for instructors and students.
Your Online Work Environment
Being efficient in managing your time when working online may be the key to balancing your work and personal life. Prepare to be physically, digitally, and mentally organized so that you are not only efficient, but can enjoy that balance between work life and home life. Begin by securing a workspace conducive to being a productive instructor.
Tips for Organizing Your Physical Workspace
Tips for choosing your location:
Set up a space that is separate from your family life and area.
Choose a closed off space that will allow for quiet and privacy.
Consider a door with a lock or a “do not disturb” sign if you live with others.
Design your space to allow you to minimize distractions and help you focus:
Find a private space in your home (preferably with a door) that can be dedicated to your work as a teacher.
Set up your computer in an area with good light. Lights should be directed toward the side of or behind your line of vision.
Make sure you have high speed internet service with antivirus and malware protection software to protect you and your students’ systems.
Consider a desk you can raise and lower to avoid the negative health effects of sitting for long periods of time.
Use a comfortable, supportive, and perhaps ergonomic chair as you will likely be sitting for long periods of time.
Have computer paper, pens, and notebooks on hand.
Do not slump or round your shoulders as fatigue will quickly set in.
Consider using a foot rest that allows you to push back into your chair.
Communicate proactively to those sharing your living space of the need to respect your workspace and work hours.
Organizing Your Digital Space
Today millions of pieces of information bombard us at lightning speed. Just as you reduce chaos by organizing your physical workspace, you want to achieve the same goal of keeping your digital world organized. In order to relieve stress and be a more productive online teacher, it is essential for you to develop and maintain an organized digital workspace that promotes maximum efficiency and helps you locate files and items more readily.
Habits for a Productive Digital Workspace
Business experts offer these tips for making your digital workspace a productive place to work:
Clear your virtual desktop. Get all those icons off the startup menu that makes your system run slower.
Scan paper documents, when possible, and place them in folders.
Use clear file names so you can easily retrieve them later. Alphabetize file names and be consistent in your filing system.
Get the folders for all the classes you teach set up and organized as soon as possible.
Archive emails in folders labeled with the course name and term.
Create shortcuts on your desktop for programs, folders, and websites you use frequently.
Create bookmarks for common internet sites.
Use a calendar with deadlines and note priorities.